I live in a Midwestern neighborhood of big, one-of-a-kind red brick homes built in the 1890s, with lawns framed by city sidewalks and tree lawns between the sidewalks and the curbs. Apparently, maple trees were planted every 15′-20′ when the houses were built, because we all have magnificent, towering maple trees that give us deep-to-dappled shade on our yards and homes. I live on a corner, so we have rows of those trees on both sides of our lot. Those trees are some of my favorite things about where I live.
On July 13, 2015, at 6:20PM, a storm swept through my hometown with typhoon-force winds. I can now stand in the street corner of my front yard and count five of those majestic maples that are down. The one in front of our house fell almost due east and filled Oak Street from our house to our neighbor’s two doors up. Across 14th Street to the west, our neighbor’s tree fell due south, completely blocking Oak and reaching all the way across the front yard to the very doorstep of the house on the south side. If I look north, I see a tree snapped like a match stick, with an ugly spike piercing the sky, and the gigantic trunk with all its branches and leaves bisecting my neighbor’s 2-1/2-car garage. The east and west walls blew outward. Her car is still in it. A little farther, another went down from the roots, fell east, took out part of her balcony, and lies across her yard. A bit farther yet, another is uprooted and smothers her front yard and front porch with branches and leaves.
So much damage was done in the city that more than 1000 workers have come from hundreds of miles away, and crews will require weeks to clean up the mess; but after the trunks and twigs are gone, our neighborhood will never look like it did before July 13. Neither we nor our children will live to see the new trees we plant become 123-year-old giants like the ones that fell. The green tunnels over the streets are gone. My shade gardens are no longer in the shade. The hosta leaves are already burning to a crisp beige, the green leaves of the columbine have turned to the color of blood, and the hydrangeas have drooped. Our visual context has irreversibly changed. Normal will forever look different from the way it was–the way we wanted it to look, and the way arranged our lives and environments around. And we are grieving the loss.